Sector News

Years after Cubist buyout, Merck scores a new Zerbaxa indication. Can it jump-start sales?

June 5, 2019
Life sciences

Merck hasn’t exactly made a fortune on its $9.5 billion Cubist Pharmaceuticals buyout, but now, a next-generation antibiotic it acquired in that deal has a brand-new indication that could help jump-start sales.

Monday, the FDA approved that drug, Zerbaxa, to treat adults with hospital-acquired and ventilator-associated pneumonia. It’s an add-on to Zerbaxa’s original approvals—to treat complicated urinary tract infections and abdominal infections, in combination with metronidazole—which so far haven’t lived up to early sales expectations.

Back in 2014 when it was first approved, analysts expected the drug to grow to $560 million by 2018. Contrast that with last year’s actual results: Merck didn’t even specify Zerbaxa sales in its annual report, meaning that dollar amount wasn’t material to the company.

But with Monday’s new approval, Merck has a label expansion in an area where patients need new options. In an interview, Merck’s Joan Butterton, associate vice president in infectious disease clinical research, said the new indication is “really what Zerbaxa was designed to do.”

Merck scored the expansion based on a study of 726 patients with hospital-acquired pneumonia who were on mechanical ventilation. The patients were seriously or critically ill, and investigators found Zerbaxa could match up with a current treatment, meropenem.

While many drugmakers have abandoned antibiotics R&D, Merck has not, Butterton said. Anti-infective drug development has been a “core mission” at the company, Butterton said, and the company’s work spans antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics, vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, she said.

Zerbaxa’s label expansion comes as analysts and market watchers push for the company to expand its business beyond the mega-successful cancer drug Keytruda. Though Merck has several successful drug franchises, including the diabetes drugs Januvia and Janumet, Keytruda has been its primary growth engine over the past two years.

Some are pushing Merck to do some deals, but the Cubist buyout highlights the risks of that strategy. Merck inked the deal back in 2014, but soon after a court nixed all but one patent for Cubicin, the centerpiece of the buyout. Last year, after losing patent protection in 2016, the antibiotic generated $367 million in sales. Before generics launched, the antibiotic was a blockbuster.

Merck is hoping that’s not the last antibiotic blockbuster in its portfolio. Next month, the drugmaker is hoping to score an approval for a combo of relebactam, imipenem and cilastatin to treat complicated urinary tract infections and complicated intra-abdominal infections for patients with few or no other options.

By Eric Sagonowsky

Source: Fierce Pharma

comments closed

Related News

December 3, 2022

Sanofi moves into swanky new Paris HQ designed around hybrid work and sustainability

Life sciences

Monday, the French pharma giant officially moved into its new global home base in Paris, dubbed La Maison Sanofi. The 9,000-square-meter (about 96,875-square-foot) facility comprises two historic buildings and will host around 500 employees, the company explained in a release.

December 3, 2022

As CEO Schultz eyes retirement, Teva taps former Sandoz head Francis as its next leader

Life sciences

On the first day of the new year, former Sandoz chief Richard Francis will take the reins from Schultz, who is hanging up his CEO hat to retire on Dec. 31, Teva said Monday. The news comes a little more than two weeks after Teva publicly said it was looking for Schultz’s replacement.

December 3, 2022

General Electric sets healthcare division spinoff plans

Life sciences

General Electric Co. set the terms for the spinoff of its healthcare division, putting an initial value of roughly $31 billion on the soon-to-be-public company. The Boston conglomerate plans to split into three separate public companies by early 2024. Following the healthcare spinoff, it plans to separate its aerospace business from its power and renewable-energy units.